A late Erhun Oztumer strike earned Jon Whitney’s Walsall a point on Saturday as they drew 1-1 with Coventry City. The Sky Blues went into the break with a goal advantage courtesy of Andy Rose – the midfielder scoring on his return from injury. Missed chances then proved costly for the travelling side and they were almost left empty-handed late on as a Saddlers resurgence opened up a number of opportunities.
Both sides went into the tie in good form, but supporters of the visiting side would argue that they were unfortunate to not pick up all three points as their team controlled the first hour. Despite the frustration of not seeing the game out, the Sky Blues will be delighted that they have hauled themselves out of the relegation places. Mark Venus’ men now sit in 19th position, whilst Walsall remain 12th.
With both sets of supporters hurling chants back and forth between the stands, the first few minutes on the pitch were tightly contested. Walsall aimed to press high and they aimed to stop the Sky Blues from controlling possession, and initially, that plan stifled the visitors. That energy did allow the hosts to create the first real chance of the affair, Kieron Morris forcing Lee Burge into a save after the dynamic winger controlled an aerial ball with great technique.
Soon after that opening, it was Coventry who began to dictate the tempo of the game. Neat build-up allowed Gael Bigirimana to send a volley off target on 13 minutes before Ruben Lameiras curled an effort inches wide just two minutes later following a pinpoint Daniel Agyei pass. Marvin Sordell then found the Portuguese winger with a sweeping pass during the next attack, but his deflected attempt was easily gathered by Neil Etheridge.
Despite the away side looking more dangerous going forward, a surging run from Walsall’s Jason McCarthy almost resulted in a goal with 24 minutes on the clock. After outpacing Ben Stevenson, the defender fizzed in a low cross and Andreas Makris only managed to stab a strike over the bar with City defender Jordan Turnbull in close attention. Up the other end, Sordell was at the heart of the action again as he created an opening for Lewis Page, but his strike was tame.
As the half wore on, it was the Sky Blues who continued to drive forward and they deservedly took the lead on 37 minutes. Sordell delivered a pinpoint cross into the area and Andy Rose met it with a deft volley that dropped into the far corner via Etheridge’s fingertips. Burundi-born Bigirimana then went down in the area in the 44rh minute to spark penalty appeals in the away end, but the referee booked him for simulation. Just before the interval, Walsall captain Adam Chambers fired a strike on goal but Burge reacted well to save.
The Sky Blues began the second period with great intent and Agyei carried the ball into the home area after showing sublime feet. Unfortunately for the striker, his powerful drive towards goal flashed into the side-netting. Another dangerous move then allowed Sordell to get a shot away on 53 minutes but it was blocked well by James O’Connor. A golden opportunity then fell to Agyei just three minutes later, but the Burnley loanee was thwarted by Etheridge who got down quickly at his near post.
As the atmosphere around the stadium went up a notch, Walsall began to see more of the ball, but it was the away side who went close on 63 minutes. Lameiras picked out Bigirimana expertly, but the midfielder could only find the gloves of the home keeper from 20 yards. His opposite number Lee Burge was then called into action up the other end with 66 minutes played as he parried a Joe Edwards strike away from goal. Oztumer then went down under a challenge but the referee waved play on and Morris lashed an effort wide.
The tempo of the match continued to increase and a few fiesty challenges were put in by both sides. Walsall began to overrun the midfield, however, and they went close on 73 minutes as an Oztumer free kick needed to be dealt with by Burge. Just three minutes later, the attacking midfielder did find the net to spark wild celebrations in the home section. Intricate passing play eventually found the former Peterborough United man and he struck a low finish into the far corner.
With the momentum now in the Saddlers’ favour, Morris saw a strike sting the palms of Burge on 79 minutes before the keeper then denied Oztumer with a solid reaction stop. As the clock ticked towards 90 minutes, Sordell spurned two opportunities up the other end. His initial attempt was blocked courageously by O’Connor and his follow-up sailed way over the crossbar. In the dying embers, Walsall almost found a stoppage time winner, but Substitute Liam Kinsella could only drag a strike wide after finding space in the area.
Many City fans would have taken a point away to a good Walsall side before kick-off, but having dictated proceedings for the majority of the game, I am feeling a bit aggrieved. Our first half display was very encouraging indeed as we limited the hosts to minimal chances and we posed a threat going forward. However, a lack of cutting edge from our forward line meant that the Saddlers always remained in the game. If we had scored a second, I have no doubt we would have prevailed – but we didn’t.
After failing to further our lead, the Walsall fans began to sense some hope and their players started to look more tenacious in the midfield. That’s where they outshone us late on – without the physicality that Andy Rose provides, we struggled to contain them. Erhun Otzumer’s goal was well created and deftly finished, but we sat deep and watched the ball zip past us. It’s deeply frustrating but I guess the fact we are out of the drop zone can only be seen as a positive.
It was only after the leveller that Walsall really endangered our back four. Their heads were clearly up at that point and they could have won it late on in all honesty. Despite the dropped points, we can be optimistic as supporters. For the large part we looked organised and we nullified a very capable team. Goals have been a major concern all season for us, and although we have started to find the net more frequently recently, wastefulness cost us today.
Personally, I believe Marvin Sordell put in a good shift and his pace and power caused problems, but the decision to utilise him out wide perhaps limited his impact. Daniel Agyei worked hard in the more central role and he fashioned a few chances for himself and others, but his finishing could improve somewhat. Despite not being his biggest fan, I thought Ruben Lameiras was superb. Quite a number of attacks came through him and he really looked liively all afternoon. He’s a player that possesses great technically ability – he just goes missing sometimes.
Jordan Willis’ impressive form continued as he dominated in central defence. His partner Jordan Turnbull wasn’t bad either, and I thought Jamie Sterry and Lewis Page both enjoyed one of their better games in a sky blue shirt. With Chesterfield out next opponents on Tuesday, I am very hopeful that we can prolong our unbeaten home record. Three points would be very useful indeed, and if we get ahead and then kill the game, we could pull ourselves further away from danger.
Lee Burge – 7
Jamie Sterry – 7
Jordan Willis – 8
Jordan Turnbull – 8
Lewis Page – 7
Andy Rose – 7
Ben Stevenson – 6
Gael Bigirimana – 6
Ruben Lameiras – 8
Marvin Sordell – 7
Daniel Agyei – 7
Jodi Jones – 5
Andre Wright – 6
Kyel Reid – N/A
Walsall: Etheridge, Edwards, Laird, O’Connor, McCarthy, Chambers (C), Oztumer, Morris (Kinsella 89), Toner, Makris (Jackson 62), Moussa (Ginnelly 78).
Unused Substitutes: MacGillivray, Dobson, Osbourne, Preston.
Coventry City: Burge, Sterry, Willis (C), Turnbull, Page, Rose (Jones 71), Stevenson, Bigirimana, Lameiras (Reid 82), Sordell, Agyei (Wright 70).
Unused Substitutes: Charles-Cook, Ricketts, Maycock, Tudgay.
Attendance: 6,719 (1,981 away)